You might think that fishing with spawn bags for steelhead or trout is as simple as just putting it on the hook and throwing it out there, however, this is not true. I and the guides that work with me know that there are ways to make spawn bag fishing more effective and that is what this article is all about.
Spawn bags are one of the best baits when fishing for trout or steelhead in rivers. Spawn bags can be tied in many colors and sizes to attract more fish. Anglers use the eggs from salmon or trout for their spawn bags and they use them with methods like float fishing or bottom bouncing.
I discuss 10 tips that can help you catch more steelhead or trout using spawn bags. These are tips that I usually only provide to my clients and friends to help them catch more steelhead.
Most of your questions about using spawn bags for steelhead and trout will be answered on this page.
Spawn bags are also known as roe bags which you might hear me call them from time to time. Spawn bags are called spawn sacs, roe, roe sacks, spawn, eggs, or even eggs sacks.
Whatever you call them using eggs or roe for steelhead and trout can be very effective but only if you use them right. You may not realize this, but there are things that river guides do to the spawn bags to make them work better. There are better ways to fish them.
Often, the loose fish eggs not tied into bags or sacks are just called roe or spawn.
What Are Spawn Bags?
Spawn bags are usually trout or salmon eggs tied into a fine-colored mesh or netting and they are used to present multiple eggs to trout and steelhead as bait. Anglers combine the eggs together in a mesh bag to make a bigger bait that the steelhead can easily see and to be able to secure it to the hook.
Why Are Spawn Bags Considered The Best Steelhead Bait?
The simple answer is that spawn bags work in almost all situations because trout and steelhead love eating eggs!
Since spawn bags catch a lot of trout, steelhead, and even salmon, they are the most popular bait for river anglers. Because spawn sacs are the most popular bait, they get used more than other baits, and therefore more fish are caught on them, and then other anglers want to use spawn sacks for bait too. Monkey see, monkey do!
Let’s find out why spawn bags work so well, and the ways to make them work even better.
5 Reasons Why Spawn Bags Work So Well
These are 5 reasons why spawn bags work so well for many anglers and these are some of my opinions and ideas on why spawn bags are so effective for many anglers.
#1. BIG PROFILE – Spawn bags are a big profile bait which means that spawn bags stand out like a sore thumb, which may be a reason why most anglers catch more fish on spawn bags.
Small baits get missed by fish sometimes or they blend in with all the debris that is drifting down the river, but a spawn bag is a big meal that is hard for a trout or steelhead to pass up, and a well-presented spawn bag can entice even nonactive steelhead, trout, or salmon into eating it.
#2. SCENT – I don’t believe steelhead, trout or salmon feed based on scent alone, but most anglers believe that spawn bags are so effective because unlike other baits, spawn bags have a scent that the fish pick up on.
I believe steelhead, trout, and salmon feed more based on sight than anything else so the scent from a spawn bag is almost irrelevant after a minute or two in the river.
How else would you explain why a pink-colored spawn bag will outperform a peach-colored spawn bag sometimes? If both spawn bags were the same eggs and smelled the exact same to the fish, then both spawn bags should work equally as well, but that’s rarely the case.
The color, which is a visual thing, can make all the difference some days and I have seen fish hit pink spawn bags all morning and by noon they won’t touch anything other than a white spawn bag, or a blue spawn bag. This is why I don’t think the scent is a factor at all and that the size and the color of the spawn bag are more important to the fish.
I also feel that after the first few casts most spawn bags lose all their ability to scent.
Also, many guys use commercial egg cures which I bet don’t taste or scent anything like real fresh eggs in a spawn bag, but those commercially cured eggs still work quite well regardless of the scent and it’s simply because they look the same.
Guide Tip – The exception to my scent theory is that a fresh spawn bag will milk, or scent heavily on the first drift or two and that may work to your advantage, and it’s not uncommon to hit a fish on the first or second drift of a new spawn bag.
If anything, the combination of some scent and the sight of the bait is what gets them to eat it.
Because a new spawn bag scents so well, I tell my clients not to put on a new spawn bag and drop it at their feet before they cast it because all that sent is now at your feet and not out where the fish and your spawn bag are.
Instead, DO NOT let that new spawn bag hit the water until it’s in the line that you want to fish.
Guide Tip – Also, popping an egg in your spawn bag after 5 or 6 drifts will also create an abundance of fresh scents which may also work as a good tactic for more fish, and it’s not uncommon for my clients to hit a fish immediately after popping an egg.
#3. ROE SINKS – An important factor for catching more steelhead is to get your bait into the strike zone fast and to keep it there for as long as possible.
Fish eggs sink, therefore, spawn bags tend to sink too and that means that they get into the strike zone better than some other baits which may be one reason why anglers will catch more fish using spawn bags. Getting your bait down fast and in the strike zone is always a good thing.
Guide Tip: Learning how to get all your baits down fast and into the strike zone is much better than just relying on a bait like spawn bags that sink. Using the right leader like my steelhead leader setup really helps too. You can see my leader set up at Steelhead Leaders: Best Float Leader And 2 Proven Setups.
#4. SPEED – Speed control is critical for catching more steelhead, salmon, and trout with any bait!
Anyone that has learned from me knows that I consider the speed of your bait in the strike zone to be one of the most important things to master if you want more steelhead, trout, or salmon in the net with any bait. But what does that have to do with roe bags? For more information on that see my page Controlling Your Speed For More Fish When Float Fishing.
I believe that many anglers drag their baits too fast through the strike zone and they don’t catch many fish because of it.
I have seen it hundreds of times where one guy is catching a bunch of fish and the other guy is catching none, and when I watch the two anglers closely to find out why the difference, the guy catching fewer fish is almost always presenting their bait too fast through the strike zone.
I believe spawn bags are like little parachutes in the water. Their big round profile tends to drag and slow the bait down which unknowingly allows for a slower, more natural presentation, and that slower presentation is probably another reason why spawn bags catch more fish.
I think it’s much better to learn how to slow all your baits down and present them well than it is to rely on your bait to drag.
Learning how to slow all your baits down, including your spawn bag will help you catch more steelhead. See more about presenting your bait better for 10-times more fish on my page Centerpin Fishing For Beginners: 20 Steps From A Top Guide.
#5. FISH HOLD ON – I believe anglers miss subtle hits all the time due to poor presentation and some artificial baits get picked up and spit out quickly.
With spawn bags, I think a steelhead may hold onto a spawn bag longer, or the mesh of the bag might get stuck in their teeth longer which gives anglers a better chance of hooking the fish.
For this reason, spawn bags are a good bait for many new anglers.
Learning how to present your bait better so that you can detect a strike faster should be your goal and will even increase how many fish you catch on your spawn bags.
When To Fish Spawn Bags
Keep in mind that all these reasons that Spawn Bags work only make a difference if know how to fish for trout and steelhead well and if you know how to set up your gear.
There are times of the year when spawn bags will work better and I discuss fishing for steelhead in Fall, Winter, and spring along with the most effective methods, leader setups, how to read the water, and even timing the steelhead runs all on my page, Fishing For Steelhead.
I discuss trout fishing methods on my page Fishing For Trout: Tips and Advice
What Are The Best Eggs For Spawn Bags? Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Or Salmon?
There are a lot of guys that will tell you that one species of eggs is better than another.
I know guys that will travel 2 hours to get to a river that is known to have tons of migratory brown trout just so they can get enough brown trout roe to use as bait.
They do this because they think brown trout eggs are the best type of roe to catch steelhead. But is it?
Other anglers will tell you that in the fall when the salmon are in the river you MUST use salmon roe, and when the steelhead are spawning in the spring you MUST use rainbow roe.
And then there is the question about Chinook salmon eggs versus coho eggs, or brook trout eggs, or even Arctic Char eggs?
To be honest, once the eggs are tied into a roe bag I rarely find it makes a big difference. Many guys will disagree with me and that’s OK because whatever your confidence bait is just stick with it.
The reason I think this way is that I have had the opportunity to experiment with different spawn types over 36 years of fishing.
I have experimented for years where one of my clients would use salmon eggs, and another client would use rainbow eggs, or brown trout eggs, or even brook trout eggs, and most of the time there was little to no difference between one egg over another as long as they were all cured the same way.
I likely have a few thousand more days on the water than most guys and I have had far more opportunities to experiment than 99% of the guys on the water today, and I have yet to see one type of egg consistently catch more fish than another. The keyword is consistent.
Yes, some days one type of egg will work better but it’s difficult to say if it is a fluke, or one angler’s skill or presentation, or if it was actually that one egg type worked better.
So for me to say yes, one type of egg is better than another isn’t possible at this time. In my experience, most of the time if one egg is catching more fish than another it’s likely because of how well the angler is fishing it and this is something I have proven.
If I see one angler catching more fish than his buddy using one type of egg, I have switched the eggs. It’s more common for the angler that was using the egg type that was working well to continue to catch more fish on the egg type that wasn’t working well.
That shows me it’s the presentation and not the egg type. I have done this experiment many times, and different colors and with many other baits. Colors do make a difference, baits make a difference, and eggs cures make a difference, but rarely do I find that egg types make a difference.
What really matters is that you are confident in whatever type of egg you are using at the time and that you present it well to the fish. But, keep in mind, the way you preserve, cure, and store your eggs can make a big difference.
Is Fresh Roe Better Than Store Bought Roe?
The answer is that it really depends on how the store-bought roe is cured.
Stores often need to have roe that lasts a really long time in their fridge so that it doesn’t go bad and so they don’t lose money.
That roe also needs to last long after their customer buys it or they will have angry customers.
Therefore store-bought roe is sometimes chemically cured or packed in oil to make it last a long time, but is that a good thing for fishing?
Let me just say I NEVER use oil-cured roe. I think all steelhead, salmon, and even lake run brown trout prefer non-oil cured roe.
Roe that you harvest yourself doesn’t need to be cured at all, I just let it sit in river water for 5 minutes to harden a bit, then I just pack it into jars or bags and freeze it. It’s that simple and it always works great for me.
Store-bought eggs that come from a fish farm and that are lightly cured with salt are as close to not curing eggs at all, and based on my experiments there is really no difference between eggs that you harvest from a fish at the river and the eggs in the store that are harvested from farm-raised fish and are salt-cured.
One thing I would say is that I do prefer fresh roe that is not cured or roe that is only salt-cured and that they have always produced more fish for me and my clients than all the other ways of curing eggs.
If you are going to buy roe from a store I recommend the salt-cured roe and I also recommend getting loose roe that you can tie in the appropriate sizes and colors for the river conditions that you are faced with.
GUIDE TIP – Buying pre-tied spawn bags may mean they might be too small, or they might be the wrong colors when you arrive at the river. Some guys, like me, will experiment on the river with big and small spawn bags and with different colors, and once I find what is working best I will tie up my spawn bags at the side of the river.
Is Cured or Non-Cured Roe Best?
I briefly discussed that I personally prefer non cured roe over cured roe and so do most anglers I know.
As long as you store them properly, your non-cured eggs will last a week or two in the fridge and even a couple of years in the freezer.
The only advantage of curing your eggs is that the eggs may last longer in the water when fishing and the eggs that are cured will last much longer in the fridge and freezer.
I also find eggs that are cured will tolerate being thawed and then refrozen multiple times compared to non cured eggs.
What Is The Best Way To Cure Roe?
I have experimented with many different egg cures and the best roe cure and the only one that I would consider using now is a Sea Salt Roe Cure. I put my eggs in a bowl with salt and leave them there until they float. Once they all float they are ready to be used or stored. I don’t use chlorinated water if I don’t need to, I find river water or bottled water works best.
Salt preserves the roe in a more natural way and helps the roe last longer both when storing it and it may prevent the eggs from turning white prematurely when you use them in colder water.
Plus if the fish swallow salt-cured eggs it won’t harm them as some commercial egg cures might.
What Are The Best Commercial Egg Cures?
There are a number of commercial egg cures on the market that will preserve your eggs and even color them if you want.
Are Spawn Bags Packed In Oil Any Good?
Some stores will sell roe in jars that are packed in oil, or at least they used to. In my opinion, these eggs leave an oil slick and I have had very little success with them and I would not use them at all.
If spawn bags packed in oil is all you can get, use another bait like a pink plastic work, a bead or a fly, or even plastic eggs. They are all better than oil packed eggs in my opinion.
What Are The Best Spawn Bag Colors?
This is a two-way question and answer because it can either mean what color mesh or spawn net should you use, or it could mean should you use eggs that are dyed.
Some egg cures have a dye in them to color the eggs darker or lighter shades and some guys prefer to change their egg colors using this method.
In certain conditions like when the water is stained or dirty, a dyed egg can be beneficial and might help you catch more fish.
However, just about every skilled angler that I know does not use color-dyed eggs, and instead, they all stick with the natural color of the eggs and they just use the spawn netting for added color and it works well for them.
If I want to add more color to my spawn bags, I also use spawn netting. The spawn net color that the eggs are wrapped in can be very important because the fish can be very selective at times.
I use different color netting or different types of netting for different water clarity, which I also call water visibility, so it’s important to understand water clarity first.
The way I explain or rate the color and the visibility of the river is important to know so you can pick the right color roe bags.
How I rate the river and what color roe bags I would use under different conditions is like this:
- DIRTY WATER – If I can only see 8 inches or less into the water and the water is brown I consider this to be very dirty and probably un-fishable. Best Netting Colors – Chartreuse, Red, Hot Pink
- OFF-COLORED Water – 8 to 14 inches of visibility and is slightly brown or is off-colored and slightly dirty water it’s very possible to hook some fish in this type of water. Best Netting Colors – Chartreuse, Red, Hot Pink, Yellow, Bubble Gum Pink, Fire Orange, Orange.
- GREEN WATER – 14 to 24 inches of visibility and a greenish color as seen in the picture, this is what I would consider medium visibility and is often when the fishing goes from tough to very good. Best Netting Colors – Yellow, Pink, Orange, Salmon.
- Clear Water – 24 to 36 inches of visibility – This can be good fishing. Best Netting Colors – Salmon, Peach, White, Blue, and Light Purple.
- Very Clear Water – if the water looks like tap water and is so clear that you can see deeper than 6 feet. Best Netting Colors – White, Peach, Blue, Purple
Spawn Bag Color
Spawn Bag Size
Clear Water - over 30 inches of visability
peach, white, blue, light orange, salmon, light pink
2 to 3 salmon eggs. Dime Size
#10 or #12
Medium Clear - up to 30 inches of visibility
yellow, pink, orange, salmon, hot pink, chartreuse
Dime sise to Nickle size - 4 to 5 salmon eggs
#8 or #10
Dirty - less than 12 inches of visability
chartrueuse, red, hot pink
qurter to dollar size - 5 to 8 salmon eggs
#6 or #8
What Is The Best Spawn Net?
Spawn net can come in rolls, cut squares, or scarves and also comes in different hole sizes as seen in the picture.
I use and prefer the Blackbird Spawn Net which is seen on the right side of the picture because it comes in a wider mesh that shows more of the eggs but still gives the eggs a bit of color.
Blackbird also has a fine scarf type net material that has smaller holes which are seen on the spawn bag and material on the left in the picture. This finer smaller holed netting gives the spawn bag more color by covering more of the eggs.
Some anglers believe that this finer scarf mesh gets stuck in the teeth of the fish better and provides more hookups which I think is very possible.
Another bonus of the scarf is that it comes in colors that you can’t get elsewhere like the light purple and yellow color which has worked very well for me at times.
I will use both types of netting but normally I only use the scarf in the Chartreuse color for dirtier water because it has more color and stands out better than the other netting. I also prefer scarf netting if I can’t get those unique colors in the other netting.
If you prefer pre-cut spawn netting you can try the Atlas Brand Spawn Net.
What Is The Best Spawn Bag Size?
The size of the spawn bag is important and fish can be selective on the size of the roe that they eat. Just like the spawn bag color, the size of your spawn bag should also be based on water clarity.
- Dirty Water – Low visibility – Big spawn bags that are the size of a quarter or a dollar coin are best.
- Green and slightly off-colored water with medium visibility – Big spawn bags can work but I usually tie bags from the size of a nickel to the size of a quarter.
- Clear Water – good visibility – Dime-sized spawn bags are best.
- Very Clear Water – Dime-sized spawn bags (2- 3 salmon eggs or 4 to 5 trout eggs) or even single eggs are best.
In very clear water I will often switch to beads. If you are not familiar with fishing with beads, check out my page Fishing With Beads: 5 Guide Tips For More Fish.
Should You Use Floaters In Your Spawn Bag?
If you are drifting your spawn bag under a float then you want it to sink and get down into the strike zone and stay there. Your float should suspend the spawn bag just off the bottom and you should not use the floaters in your spawn bags.
If your style of fishing is to bottom bounce your spawn bags, having a little bit of flotation is a good thing to keep the bait up and off the bottom unless you use my advanced Bottom bouncing method. Adding a few colored floaters to your spawn bag will do the trick.
If you surf fish in the lake or you prefer to let your bait just sit on the bottom of the river with a heavy lead weight while you wait for a passing fish you should add floaters to your spawn bag to keep it off the bottom.
You can get the spawn sack floaters that I use – HERE
How Do You Hook A Spawn Bag?
Proper hooking of the roe bag can mean more fish.
I like to hook on the roe bag in a way that I do not break any eggs, and I like to make sure the hook is on one side of the bag so that it is hidden on all sides except that one side.
If you bury the hook like a lot of angler do you will damage many of the eggs and the bag will be no good after a couple of drifts.
To be sure I don’t break any eggs, I carefully thread the hook point between a couple of eggs and then turn the hook point out of the bag without breaking any eggs.
Then I try to turn the point back in towards the bag and gently place the point of the hook into the roe bag in a spot that will not break an egg. Done! You can see this in the picture.
One thing that inhibits anglers from catching more fish is their hook size. It’s often too big or too small.
Use a hook that matches the size of your bait!! Too big means the fish see it, and that heavy hook might prevent the bait from drifting naturally. Too small, and it can close up the gap and make penetration and hooking percentage worse. Too small can also mean it will only grab a small bit of skin and not hold well.
Use the right type of hook and the right size for your spawn sac and you will catch more fish. This is important for all the baits that you use.
What Are The Best Hooks For Spawn Bags?
There are a lot of decent hooks out there, and there are some hooks that are just crap.
There are also better sizes and better shapes that will improve your hook-ups and landing ratio.
I will say that you want a hook that is not too big or not so heavy that it weighs your roe bag down too much or stands out like a sore thumb.
- Raven Sedge Hooks – Bronze – for low water and clear water conditions and smaller bags. This is a thin hook that hides well on the spawn bag, and it doesn’t weigh it down but it might bend on big fish and heavy lines over 10lb test. For most steelhead rivers I prefer a size 8 or 10 Raven hook. This hook is not recommended for salmon or big rivers with fast flows and heavy leaders.
- Raven Specialist Hooks – This is a wider gap hook that hooks and holds well and is the one in the picture. It is not too heavy or too light and is a good all-around hook for roe bags. I use this hook a lot when fishing and guiding for steelhead and salmon. I prefer a size 8 or size 10 Raven Specialist hook for most small to medium-sized rivers. For bigger or dirtier water, I may go to a size 4 or 6.
- Raven Wide Gape Specimen Hooks – The Raven Wide Gape Hook is a strong hook that holds well when I need that extra strength for a really big steelhead or salmon and on the fast big water rivers and when I am using a heavier leader. Even the smaller sizes can be excellent for smaller roe bags in smaller water. Many of my guides and I use this hook when guiding.
Wider gap hooks tend to hold on better and don’t tear out of the fish’s mouth as often so you won’t lose as many fish. I also don’t believe colored hooks are better so I stick with bronze and black hooks.
Your roe bag hook needs to be the right shape, the right size for your roe bag, the right color, and they must be from quality hook brands that are sharp and don’t bend or break. I discuss all of this and more on my page 5 Best Hooks For Float Fishing: What The Guides Use.
When Should You Change A Spawn Bag?
I change my spawn bags when they start getting beat up with broken eggs or when they start fading color and turning white. Sometimes the same spawn bag can be good for 2 fish.
Guide Tip – A simple and easy tip that I give to all my clients is to take the point of a hook and gently poke a hole into one of the eggs in the spawn bag after 6 or 7 drifts.
This allows that egg to slowly release scent for a few drifts, then do it again and again until the roe bag is too small.
Just make sure you aren’t squeezing the egg when you do it or make sure that it’s not pointing at you, otherwise, all the juice inside the eggs may squirt you in the face.
Other than the first drift, popping an egg is the only time I think that the scent of a roe bag will play a part in catching more fish.
How To Tie A Spawn Bag?
There are a few ways to tie a spawn bag and a few devices that may make it easier for you along with some materials that make tying bags much faster.
Some anglers like the Redwing Tackle Bait Bandit Tying Machine to help them tie their spawn bags faster.
You will also want to get yourself some special rubber tying thread which is fantastic stuff and a must-have for tying spawn bags.
Should You Throw Out Old Roe? When Is Roe To Old To Fish?
I have had roe in my freezer for five years and it still worked well. I have also used roe that had gone bad from sitting in my vest or in my car for too long and it was so stinky it almost made me puke when I open the container, but I still caught fish on it.
I read an article years ago from a guy that claimed he caught more fish on old stinky spawn bags than on fresh roe. He would purposely leave his spawn bags out to go bad before he would use them.
Ever since then, I started keeping old gross roe and using it for at least a few casts to determine if it works or not before deciding to throw it out, and in my opinion, it almost always works.
For humans, once a food goes bad the taste and smell are enough to keep us from eating it and from making us sick. But, like my dog who will eat a 3-week old ham sandwich on the sidewalk and would love it and not get sick, I think fish are the same.
The fish will eat it based on sight, maybe scent, and because they can without puking or getting sick.
So before you go through a bunch of old stinky spawn bags out, put them on a hook and give them a try, provided you can tolerate that smell!
How Long Does Roe Last?
In the fridge, un-cured fish eggs should last about 10 days before getting too stinky.
Salt-cured eggs and eggs using a commercial cure might last a few weeks in the fridge.
As far as freezing eggs, I have pulled out non-cured salmon eggs from the freezer after three years and caught fish on them, and the cured eggs should last a year or two longer.
I also freeze, thaw and re-freeze my eggs over and over again with little to no problems.
The only thing I will stress is that once the eggs get freezer burn they may be slightly deflated, look whitish inside, and they may not work as well. This can happen with both un-cured and cured eggs if they are not stored properly.
How Should You Store Fresh Roe?
Whether you use zip lock bags or small bottles, I highly recommend storing your eggs in 1 to 3-day serving sizes so that you don’t have to thaw out 2 pounds of roe in a big jar just so you can tie up 20 bags.
I will also tie up spawn bags a freeze them for quick and easy-to-go roe bags. However, doing this too many times seems to dehydrate the eggs and may make your roe bags a bit saggy over time.
Can You Freeze Roe Multiple Times?
Yes, you can freeze fish eggs 4 or 5 times. You can also freeze your tied-up roe bags 4 or 5 times. I do this all the time with no issues.
But, I do find that refreezing them too many times may dehydrate the eggs or cause freezer burn which is why I try to limit how many times I refreeze my roe bags. It’s also why I always freeze fresh roe in single day use sizes.
That way, most of my roe from the same fish won’t need to be thawed out and then refrozen.
I have found that roe that has been frozen and thawed out too many times will also go very soft, and you may end up popping many eggs when you tie them into spawn bags.
In the picture above, you can see how I stack the then freeze multiple bags of eggs. I do it this way because I can snap the frozen eggs into smaller amounts if I need fewer eggs. Eggs frozen in a jar are like a solid chunk and the entire jar would need to be thawed.
Got A Question About Spawn Bags Tips And Advice
As you can see, there is a lot more to fishing with spawn bags than just putting it on a hook and chucking it into the river. If you make some adjustments, use the right sizes and colors, and use the right hooks, you will catch more steelhead, trout, and salmon on spawn bags.
If you have a question about spawn bags leave it in the comment section below.